Interview with Director General of the Koltsovo Mixed Feed Factory

Interview with Director General of the Koltsovo Mixed Feed Factory

Basir Magomedov Rasulovich

Archive records say that the predecessor of our enterprise was the Nizhnii Istok Mill founded in 1817, so we celebrate a 200-year anniversary this year. Some unknown farmer has set a dam on the Iset river and then established 5 water-driven flour mill arrangements. Interestingly, prior to establishing a mill, one had to achieve consents from owners of already existing mills up and down the river. Additionally, he had to purchase ground areas destined to be flooded during dam works, or substitute them with his own lands. Mill development progressed, steam drive appeared in 1877, after that a boiler-room was built with Shukhov boilers fueled by peat.

When I started to work here in 1986 as a chief engineer, the mill drive was already electric with two engines. 360 kW electric engines were situated in the electrical shop and transmitted rotation momentum through steel shafts with drums to the equipment via flat belts.

From 1954 to 1961, a three-stage mill elevator was built with total capacity of 46 000 tons of grain. A feed workshop with the capacity of 200 tons of feeds per day was launched in 1972, then a feed elevator with the capacity of 17.0 tons of grain was built the same year, because the old one did not meet technological demands of the mill, these being the capacity of 280 tons of flour per day, and of the feed workshop. In 1982 a 2.8-ton mealy raw material silo was built along with a 3.6-ton warehouse for final feed product.

At that time, crops arrived generally in train cars (except harvesting periods) and for the most part from abroad: Canada, France, and United States. Our agriculture was in decline at that time, we even failed to preserve already harvested grain, because of lack of elevator tanks.

At the time of 1986 it was obvious that our mill has become technically outdated. It produced only 2nd grade flour, which was mainly supplied to CLEs and biochemical plants. In 1989 the mill was closed. In the same year our feed workshop has been reconstructed. Before reconstruction we produced 400 tons per day, 600 tons after it, in two 12-hour shifts. We carried out our modernization independently, reaching a maximum of 900 tons per day. We have set two mixers sequentially and reduced mixing cycle in each of them.

But such high performance could be maintained for only one consequent day-night cycle at max, because the rest of the infrastructure could not cope with it. We worked around the clock, stopped the mill only for the New Year holidays, and even then - for no more than 8 hours in a row. We even dropped so-called “service decades” – all to stick to a plan...

And we always succeeded with sticking to a plan. At that time, salaries in our industry were at a minimum, especially for non-specialists, so the majority of our personnel consisted of those released from prisons, randoms, rummies etc. Sometimes the day after salary not a single shift worker appeared at work. Or the head workman just could barely stand on his feet. We called on our employees, brought them to life and then to work. We even fired them, but about two days later picked them again, because there was no one else to work. But we have always stick to a plan, even if there was a technical breakdown in the middle of the night, we went to work, repaired and restored everything. We’ve never waited until the morning comes. No downtime was acceptable.

Until 1988 we have been the largest enterprise in the industry with daily output of 600 tons per day.

(As recollected by Basyr Rasulovich Magomedov)

In post-soviet Russia we’ve became a joint stock company. In the year 1998 the crisis and the devaluation of ruble have greatly affected us. There were foreign contracts that we couldn’t fulfill after the dollar rise, and moreover imagine bank loans at 130% per annum looming like Damocles sword. So, the company was declared bankrupt. For 3 years the company was in bankruptcy, the factory stood still. There were some attempts to sell it in parts or as a ground area. At that time, as the chief engineer, I did everything possible from my part to save the main technological departments of the enterprise. It was a 17-years crusade.

Finally, we’ve managed to keep it all together, as a single complex. Then we created a subsidiary - OOO Koltsovo MFF. For several years this company was being put on auction, and finally, as soon as the possibility emerged in year 2003, I and my business partner have bought it and became owners.

In the very first year after that we’ve restored the boiler room, as it supplied heat to the whole neighborhood of the town - several multi-storey buildings, a school, a kindergarten, a shared house. In 2004 the first instalment of mixed feed has been produced. It was a very difficult task to restore relations with our customers and regain trust. Nobody had a desire to work with us, raw materials were shipped only on advance payment, but step by step it all came together. We started from 100, then 200, then 500 tons and constantly advanced, restored our equipment, carried out modernization. Legacy technologies appeared to be very inaccurate with a too large number of intermediate bins, there also was a very large-scale re-grading when switching recipes, resulting in heavy losses. Quality standards for mixed feed climbed higher, and we moved to the “other feed” sector, as we could no longer produce bird feed of the required quality. We could not compete with colleagues - the Sverdlovsk GPP and Bogdanovich MFF.

We worked this way until year 2014. In 2014, with food sanctions imposed on Russia, the President handed us – the farmers and manufacturers - a blank check. We came to the conclusion that the equipment and technology are quite outdated, so substantial modernization is needed. Some years prior to that, in 2012, we had bought a pellet mill from the Technex Company.

The old ones were made back in 1986 in Rostov and became spiritually and physically outdated, let alone problems with spare parts. There is some kind of advertisement saying “bought and forgot”, the same with this pelletizer - no problems and breakdowns at all during 2 years of operation. We decided that at least basic technological equipment should be changed – crushers and mixers, all in order to cope with high-quality production standards. With this in mind, I visited Technex in 2015. Here I must say that I have known Sergey Vasilyevich Cherepanov since the foundation of Tekhnex.

I thoroughly expressed all our problems and wishes, was listened to, and after a while they submitted us a much more ambitious project of the complete reconstruction of our workshop. All old equipment was destined to become scrap. At first I was dumbfounded, but Technex specialists convinced me that anything worth doing at all is worth doing well. Our previous plan to replace only part of the equipment was not a solution, it was necessary to change just everything, technology included. In particular, adding of a microdoser line to adhere to modern recipes. There were different opinions, of course. For instance, we had a PVMS workshop, and then out of the blue we were asked to abandon it, to throw it away in fact. I was strictly against it, because I realized how vast a scope of work lies ahead. We had to remove existing reinforced concrete bunkers and replace them with iron ones equipped with vibration activators.

We historically solved the issue of vibration activation with a mallet cut from a 200x200 timber, which a staff member pounded the bunker with. Nine 40-cc bunkers had to be installed at floors from 7 to 9. I had strong doubts and it often resulted in fierce disputes. Sergey Vasilyevich once said to me: “If you keep refusing, I am not selling to you anything at all. Don’t want you to blame Technex afterwards.” This phrase had a tight grip on my soul, and then realization came that Technex didn’t just want to sell me the equipment, and come what may. They wanted to do everything correctly and honestly. Finally, we accepted the project, regardless of how hard it was. We signed a contract for the equipment supply on quite favourable terms, thanks to Technex. There was one more reason why we chose Technex... At that time, China was actively promoting its equipment, there were also European options, and I’ve visited many factories in Europe. We dropped China almost immediately: they did not offer comprehensive solutions and their equipment had no advantages apart from the low price. After considering all key factors like quality and reliability of equipment, cost and accessibility of service, we made the decision to embrace Technex.

Current Technex products are in no way inferior to European ones in terms of quality, functionality or technological features, and have advantage in price, especially remembering the fall of the rouble in 2015. We purchased equipment, and after Technex delivered it on time we carried out a reconstruction – a three-stage one, since we could not stop factory operation completely as this would result in customer loss.

In the first stage - September-October 2015 - we replaced the crushers and the mixer, in the second stage - April-May 2016 - we set up microdosers and transferred to the PVMS workshop - it was the most labor-intensive stage, I can say. As I’ve already said we had to replace bunkers at floors from 7 to 9. Finally, in the third stage in August last year, we replaced the grain scale and set up a finishing spraying unit. Startup and commissioning were carried out by Technex. There of course were some difficulties with equipment compatibility but we worked our way through them.

(As recollected by Basyr Rasulovich Magomedov)

- Today, after performing global modernization, we can sure say that our production is on par with that of our colleagues in terms of quality, diversity of feed recipes or product range. Take poultry feeds as an example - we produce feeds for laying chicken, broilers, ducks, turkeys and more.

Our production volumes reach 5 000 tons per month. We work in one shift, though our press pelletizers operate around the clock, as they have matrices of various diameters – we just choose one matching produced feed type. We now plan to enlarge production volumes up to 10 000 tons per month – our equipment is ready for this. Moreover, during one shift we produce up to 7-8 recipes of feed compounds. Demand is what limits production. Total number of feed manufacturers now significantly exceeds that of potential consumers. There was a slight increase in feeds demand in years 2015-16, but there is still a big room for expansion.

- So, as I get it, we here speak more of a global modernization rather than building of the factory. What in your opinion is easier - building a new factory or upgrading old one?

- If we speak precisely on the feed workshop, it is probably a bit easier to build new than to perform a complete upgrade. But a factory is much more than just a workshop - it also includes wide related infrastructure such as roads, railway dead ends, boiler rooms, storage facilities for raw materials and final products, etc. All this demands substantial investments, more than half the cost of the entire project. From this perspective building a new factory looks much more difficult, of course.

- Maybe you can outline main difficulties you’ve experienced during this modernization? Or some that maybe emerged later? What is the main target group for your products?

- Among our major customers are the Nizhny Tagil Poultry Farm, Alapaevsk Poultry Farm, Artemovsk Poultry Farm, OOO Duck Farms.
We supply mixed feeds to the fish farms of our region. We also make feed for rabbits, it’s quite new and growing field. If taken separately these rabbit farms do not consume much, but together their consumption rates sum up to dozens of tons per month. We always have this rabbit feed in stock, same with fish feed. Feed for carp in particular. We also tried to produce feed for trout, but it turned out to be nearly impossible to do this by means of our existing equipment. With its extremely high protein content we need an extruder. We are eager to purchase one, and Technex has such equipment in stock, but its performance far exceeds our current demand. Perhaps in the future the situation will change. As of now, our fish farmers are limited to the imported feed for trout. Our feed could have cost half the price.

- What kinds of equipment are currently used in the factory? How long have you been collaborating with Technex? Do you remember how and when has this cooperation begun? How would you evaluate quality and reliability of this equipment? What can you say about Technex service and support?

- I can’t say that everything was 100% perfect at the workshop reconstruction stage, we also experienced some problems at the stage of equipment startup. Equipment compatibility was the cause of these issues. But these were minor problems, not complete failures. We fixed them pretty fast. Equipment installation and setup were carried out by a specialized company with extensive experience; we can leave only positive feedback about them.

Technex provided us with a personal manager; he supported the deal from start to finish and now continues to oversee our business relations. He answers all our calls, responding instantly, and resolves any issues very quickly. As for consumables, we generally know what we need and try to keep these items in stock. Should there be an urgent need for something, Technex responds promptly.

I have already said this, but I will say it again - if we used European equipment, resolving all these issues would be much more complicated and time-consuming. I mean, dramatically. We are talking weeks and months here.

- Is your production line automated? Is extra cost of automation justified by the benefits it brings?

- Previously, we had technological staff workers managing silos, crushers, conveyors etc., each of them having his own workplace. There was even a voice connection between different floors, for the operator to give commands through it. Each piece of equipment needed to be looked after. Today we have a large control console with a display through which the entire workshop is controlled. I can remember year 1998 when I visited a feed factory in Germany. It matched ours in scale, maybe a bit smaller, but their entire staff counted just 11 people, including director and a secretary, while we had 44 people in guards alone. There were only 4 people in a shift at that factory, but it operated around the clock because they used computer to manage production at nights. It looked like sci-fi then, but now we have this sci-fi at our disposal too, with the same 4 people in a shift and a computer control.

I would like to specifically note one major advantage of our new technological scheme. That is absence of aspiration networks. We’ve had 6 of these in our workshop, with a cross section from 160 to 800 mm. That constant noise, roaring, vibration, dead space… we got rid of all this. Replaced them with local filters that do perform well. No more fans blowing thousands (15-18) of cubic meters of air outwards, into nowhere. Of warm air, let me emphasize! Our staff members can now wear common work clothes instead of cold-protectives, in winter even. Let alone significantly reduced heating costs. All our operators have broad skills; we train them the way that any of them could operate the production line. The system is very user-friendly. In the beginning, Technex specialists trained us – me, chief engineer, head of workshop, operators. Now everything is automatically controlled, from the reception of raw materials to the distribution of final product.

- Could you shed a light on some of your future plans? What do you think your enterprise will look like in say 5-10 years?

- We have a very scattered infrastructure, I can say. I haven’t seen the original construction project concept, but it seems pretty strange to me. Judge for yourself: we have a feed workshop in one site, final product warehouse in the other, and then there goes elevator completely apart from these two. Some pretty extensive supply path, isn’t it? In 1986 our gallery was 70 meters long. Conveyors of such length simply did not exist, so we had to assemble the one from many. They broke often. We then switched to belt-type conveyors. Today our main issue is not production volumes, but storage and distribution. With the gallery of 70 meters long re-grading and loss are inevitable. That’s why we now plan to build a warehouse for final product that would be situated just next to the feed workshop. Our storage volumes of final product are not that big, but the assortment is – that is 25-30 types. Turkey feed alone counts 4 different types. Technex now provides bunker storages.

We’ve even got a commercial offer, though we cannot afford it at the moment due to some financial motives.

- In conclusion, could you please say a few words about yourself? What is your specialty? How did you come over entering farming business?

- I was born and raised in Makhachkala. I was pretty much a city child, but my parents were from village, so my brother and I spent every summer there with my grandparents. After finishing the 8th grade, I entered the Machines and Equipment for Food Production Department at the Dagestan Polytechnic College, from which I graduated with honours. Then I continued at the Orenburg Polytechnic Institute and after graduating from it I’ve chosen this enterprise out of three for my future career. So here I am – more than 30 years and counting.

This article was written in cooperation with OOO MK Technex